Our Washington Rivers are very diverse. I explain a little more about our fish species here.
Yakima River Trout
The first species in our Washington rivers is the Yakima River trout. Of all our fish species, we target mainly Westslope Cutthroat and Rainbow trout on the Yakima River.
The upper Yakima River, where we do the majority of our fishing is about 50/50 Cutthroat to Rainbow. The Westslope Cutthroat are the true native fish to the river while the Rainbows were for the most part introduced pre-1980.
There is a native strain of Rainbow Trout to North America called the Mccloud Redband Rainbow Trout. These native fish have crossbred with fish that were planted here from hatcheries when the river was stocked. So, I would consider these fish to be wild, but not the same strain of fish that have been here since the beginning of time like the Cutthroat.
There is a very small population of Brook, Brown, and Bull Trout in the river. Although very, very rare we do see them from time to time. We generally hear about one caught per year, not a species that has thrived very well on the Yakima River.
There is also a very small run of steelhead that run up the Yakima River and are caught on occasion usually on a stonefly nymph.
These fish are to be kept in the water if you want to take pictures.
The Yakima River is all catch and release with a single barbless hook and no bait. We encourage and teach good fish handling skills when taking pictures. We want to catch that fish again when the next group of anglers comes down the river with us.
Lastly, we also have smallmouth bass on the lower Yakima River. This is a super fun trip due to how aggressive the smallmouth bass are. Learn more about streamer fishing for smallmouth bass.
Klickitat River Steelhead
The Klickitat Rivers season spans from June 1st to November 30th. Thus, there is no winter fishery for steelhead. They get a fair amount of returning native and hatchery fish.
For the past few years, the rules have stated that it is mandatory to kill all hatchery fish and native fish are not allowed to be taken out of the water. The easiest way to tell if a fish is hatchery or native is the native fish have a intact adipose fin, which is the small fin on top right behind the tail.
This was put into place to hopefully revamp the native fish population. 2020 was different though, keeping native fish in the water is still in place, but it was not mandatory to kill hatchery fish.
We allow people to keep hatchery fish if they want, but most people release them. The barbless hook rule was also lifted for 2020. We are now allowed to run barbed hooks. Keep an eye on the rule book though, because this could change in the future. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife can changing rules yearly or even mid-season. Of all the Washington Rivers fish species, the steelhead is the most endangered to extinction.
Yakima River Smallmouth Bass
Of all our fish species in Washington rivers, the Yakima River Smallmouth Bass makes this river really unique.
Many anglers, especially fly anglers, turn their nose up to fishing for smallmouth bass. I hear the phrase, “Just throw anything out there and they will eat it.” Which is by no means true. Bass, along with trout can be the pickiest eaters in the river.
“Matching the hatch” is still very important when river fishing for bass. Bass will sit in different types of water including faster and slower “seamy” water depending on the season just like trout will. I have always said that bass are surprisingly trouty!
A lot of bass will be in the same water you would suspect a trout to be in. This is because they are ambush predators. They are waiting for a smolt or crayfish to be passing along the seam and will come out to eat it and go back to their lie. Most of the time on the lower Yakima River I will have my anglers mending downstream to mimic the behavior of a smolt swimming downstream. I have watched bass turn their nose up to a streamer swimming upstream many times.
Along with following the smolt upstream from the Columbia, a lot of the bigger bass are also moving upriver to spawn. We will find a lot of the bigger females tucked under structure in slow or stagnant back eddies. This is where throwing a popper with pinpoint accuracy becomes crucial. The big females do not like any type of commotion or visitors in their nest and will violently take a popper if fished correctly.
Bass are often frowned upon because they are an invasive species and eat salmon smolt. While this is true, there are many other species in Washington rivers that are more invasive and have a bigger impact on the salmon populations like the Walleye. The Walleye eats, on average, twice as many smolt per day than the bass do. 20-pound walleye have been taken out of the Columbia with their bellies full of smolt.
When fishing on the lower Yakima River bass aren’t the only species we end up catching. Walleye, Channel Catfish, Carp, and the native Pikeminnow are also caught. Many people are under the impression that the Pikeminnow are an invasive species which is not true! Pikeminnow numbers have increased because dams have created prime habitat for them and WDFW have put a bounty in place to keep their numbers in check. In reality a bounty on Walleye and Bass might help the salmon populations even more.